Besides all this, there was suspended from the roof of the tomb, a large bell, the rope of which, it was designed, should extend through a hole in the coffin, and so be fastened to one of the hands of the corpse. –Edgar Allan Poe, “The Premature Burial”
There’s a bell in the coffin. There’s a pull, there’s a string, there’s a bell in the coffin you can find, you can ring. Is it tied to your finger to remind you of light when you wake in the darkness? A string on your finger, a memory, a lifeline. A bell rings somewhere in the night cemetery where the dead—most of them—sleep; where the watchman nods in his chair; where only the moon hears, and she does not speak. A bell rings somewhere in the bright day when the family picnics and mother tells child it is the wind, only the wind that stirs those chimes. How many bells, how many graves, how many hands pull strings? How many voices go unheard, how many sleepers dragged from beds, how many feet leave trails in mud, how many bodies cut from trees, how many rivers dragged? How many lost, how many gone, how long must we sing these songs, how many mouths must speak? How long until they hear our words? How many bells must ring?
by Kathryn Kulpa
Editor’s Note: Rhyme and repetition ground this prose poem in a form that tolls in the mind. The more times one reads it, the more it feels like a warning.
River of Dreams
I favored the mirror, a river of dreams. I wanted to wade in it, to close my eyes and open them someplace else. Salt water cradles; it won’t let you drown. I believed in the other side of the mirror. I was the sleepwalker. You stayed awake, kept watch. Still I remember everything. Every room of our house, every hiding place: the shaded triangle behind the neighbor’s bulkhead in summer, the patch behind the raspberry bushes we called “the haystack” in winter, when we’d bury ourselves in dried grass to stay warm. The TV room in the basement, speckled shag carpet that never showed stains. You’d get me out of bed early on Saturday mornings and we’d sneak down to watch cartoons. Shoes we didn’t know outside our mother’s room meant cereal for breakfast, and if there were no bowls we’d use coffee cups, and if there was no milk we’d pour it into a popcorn bowl and eat it dry. You’d complain about how useless Aqua-Man was and how much better Batman would be without Robin and I’d fall asleep again, listening to the dog snore, using up all my goings-away in dreams, never dreaming you were saving all of yours for the real world. You never understood why my bookshelves bulged, why I read the same books over and over. Why read a book again when you know how the story ends? Wendy grows up and forgets the way. Dorothy chants: There’s no place like home. The dreaming ends when Alice wakes up. Who’d choose the man-village over the jungle? Who’d give up being kings and queens in Narnia to be solicitors and vicar’s wives in Wolverhampton? Who’d choose Kansas over Oz? But Alice looks out of the mirror. Alice wakes up. Alice always wakes up.
by Kathryn Kulpa
Editor’s Note: Prose poems give up line breaks, and must carry the reader with mere words. This prose poem’s narrative descends into surreality, in keeping with the fictional nods, and emphasis on emotional imagery. Very few poems give me chills these days, but the end of this one did.